I currently play a Valvetech VAC22 I’ve owned for about 15 years. After a bit of a hiatus, I got back into playing more lately and found a few guys locally to start a band. While the VAC22 has a master volume that works reasonably well, it’s still damn loud for my office in a town home. I love that amp, but it’s just been living at the practice space for 2 months now and I’ve been playing acoustic exclusively at home.

Yesterday, Elsa was going to take a long ride to visit a friend of her’s down in St. Mary’s county. I figured I’d search if there are any cool guitar shops in the area and take the ride and then head over to the guitar shop. I ran across a place with a pretty solid assortment of gear– Island Music, and so plans were set.

I had a bit of an agenda– I thought I’d try out the Marshall SV20C and Vox AC15. I’ve owned an AC30 in the past and liked it, and thought either amp could stay at my house while the Valvetech hung out in the practice space. Both seemed like they’d blend nice with the VAC22 as well– back 15 years ago I always thought I’d pair the VAC with a Hayseed one day.

I was surprised at how loud the Marshall had to be to sound good to my ears. It was that classic sound, but I though the SV20C would be a bit more versatile take. Instead, it was simply great Marshall sounds at “too loud but don’t really really fuck your hearing" levels.

The AC15 was a great amp, with all the things I’ve always liked about a Vox and some of the things I never really did. I probably would have walked out with the with the red AC15. It would have looked great next to the purple tolex VAC22.

But then I saw the three Dr. Z amps in stock. A good friend of mine, Chris, has been telling me that the best amp he ever played was either the Dr. Z Maz 38 or a Matchless for… 20 years. I just never played one. A lot of folks who play Dr. Z amps are in country bands— they’re known for their killer cleans. But I’m not really a country guy, so while the cleans have always seemed incredible from afar and something I appreciate, I wasn’t really sure how dirty and aggressive these amps could get. Chris told me the Maz 38 was just bonkers loud, and I should try out a Carmen Ghia.

So I plugged into the Carmen Ghia, and it’s nice, but not all that. At least not for me. I understood why people like them, and thought with the right overdrive and setup I could make it sound great. But I wasn’t really drawn in.

Then I tried the Z Plus. Huh. This thing was pretty freaking great. And what was really impressive was how solid the master volume is. It sounded great even when I could still hear the strings on the electric. I would have spent a lot more time with this amp except that then I plugged into the Maz 18 Jr.

This thing rips. Monster sustain. Plenty of gain. I’m not sure I’ve ever played an amp with that much clarity even with tons of dirt. There’s a few things I like to play with every new amp that fall under the “sounds great acoustic, often gets buried with any kind of compression and saturation from gain/overdrive”. Not here– I’m talking acoustic level clarity at basically every level but when the pre-amp volume is fully dimed. And it always, always, always cleaned up with the volume knob. Just an insane amount of touch sensitivity.

I thought to myself, “Whelp, this is incredible. If I had an amp like this, I’d probably want a clean boost of some kind, because while it sounds great with the pre-amp volume dimed and that’s about as far as I’d want to go, it sounds better for most things around 2:30 to 3 o’clock-ish.”

So I turn the amp around and go “wait a tick, what is this?” Not only was I surprised (pleasantly) to find an effects loop (I haven’t had one since the Marshall DSL100 I sold 20 years ago, but now I play in a band that’s kind of post-rock/spacerock-y where some ambient modulation would be aweome). But there’s also an “eq-bypass”. But the pedal has a knob… what’s that a mix? I quickly do a search and realize no, there’s already a built in, footswitchable clean boost. Dang.

After a couple of hours I couldn’t help myself.

I only wish it had red or purple tolex.

So, happy first New Amp Day to me since… based on pictures at least February 2007?

I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep my Valvetech VAC22 yet. I need to spend some more time with it side by side for comparison. Maybe I’ll do a stereo or wet/dry or just straight A/B/Y setup.

An acoustic guitar with a sitka top next to a red S-type electric guitar with a yellow-faded pearloid pick guitar. On the floor in front of them is a black 1x12 combo amp with an “electric”-style Z– a Dr. Z Maz 18 Junior. There’s a braided red cable plugged into the guitar amp.